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#5114: Shortage of Haitian interpreters slowing the pace of U.S. justice (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

EPublished Monday, September 18, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Shortage of Haitian interpreters slowing the pace of U.S. justice

 The drug conspiracy trial of four alleged Haitian gang members was set
to begin last month -- until the federal court discovered that a
 Haitian-Creole interpreter was not available. The trial was postponed
for two months, and the four men remain in jail. It's a common problem
in Miami federal court. Despite South Florida's growing Haitian
 population, there are only two federally certified Haitian-Creole
interpreters in the federal court district that covers the region from
Monroe to St. Lucie County. In fact, Yolanda Felix-Zdancewicz and
Claudine Sada are two of only 12 federally certified Creole interpreters
in the United States. Until the government reinstates federal testing
for certification for Creole, which has not been given since the early
1990s, there won't be any more. Aside from Creole, the only other
federally certified languages are Spanish and Navajo. There
 are more than 500 certified Spanish interpreters throughout the United
States. Testing on those languages has ceased as well due to the
expiration of the testing contract in March 2000. The government hopes
to have the Spanish test available by spring. But the future of the
Creole test is still up in the air. ``We have to reschedule a number of
cases,'' said Irene Tomassini, chief interpreter for U.S. District
Court, Southern Division. ``If they don't schedule more than one case at
the same time, then we're fine.'' Felix-Zdancewicz, 48, and Sada, 46,
were both certified in 1990, one of the few times the Creole test was
given. Both women have worked with the government on a contract basis
for more than a decade. When they are called, each receives
 $305 a day, but they are not entitled to health benefits.

 With no benefits available, Sada recently took a $30,000 pay cut to
work full time with the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, leaving
Felix-Zdancewicz alone in federal court. ``It can be hectic,'' said
Felix-Zdancewicz. ``I have gone days without breakfast
 and lunch because I drive to Fort Pierce for one case, then to Fort
Lauderdale and to Miami in one day.'' Marijke van der Heide, federal
court interpreter program specialist in Washington, D.C., says that
while there may be an increasing need in some areas for more
 Creole interpreters, there isn't enough need to offset the cost of the
test. ``The contract for the Spanish test is about $500,000 to $700,000
a year,'' said van der Heide. ``Whether or not the Creole should be
given is a thorny issue. Other than New York and Miami, the rest of the
country really doesn't have a need.''

 Van der Heide says of the 166,260 interpreting events -- which range
from hearings to trials that occurred in all U.S. federal courts during
the 1999 fiscal year -- Spanish was the top language with 156,470 cases.
Then came Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Russian. Haitian-Creole
ranked sixth with only 533 cases.

 ``In all these other languages, there is no certification,'' said van
der Heide, who adds that federal courts can use state- or
county-qualified interpreters. ``The Courts Interpreters Act basically
states that if no certified interpreter is available,
 there will be an otherwise qualified interpreter and the judge can make
the decision on whether or not someone is qualified.'' But Sada and
Felix-Zdancewicz question whether or not a judge can accurately
 determine someone's interpreting skills. While rating those taking the
Florida qualification exam -- which allows interpreters to work in state
courts -- the two women were disturbed by how many of the applicants
were unqualified. ``The reason why you have federal certification is it
keeps you up to par,'' said Sada. ``I've been called into trials as an
expert witness where a defendant said an interpreter didn't translate
properly and the interpreter turned out to be wrong.
 That's very dangerous.'' Van der Heide says that even if testing is
reinstated -- the government says they are looking at all the top 10
languages -- it doesn't mean there will be a large number of people
interested. ``Exams or no exams, you can give a party, but it doesn't
mean everyone is going to come,'' she said. ``The failure rate on our
Spanish exam is very high so even if you had an exam, what's going to be
your pool?'' Quite a lot, says Sada.

 ``I know more than 50 people who want to take [the federal] test, who
would agree to a course and training before,'' she said. ``It's like
getting a master's